Teaching Harrison Bergeron: Ideas & Activities
The year is 2081, and everybody was finally equal...in every which way, thanks to the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. George and Hazel are watching TV, unable to think about their son Harrison being taken away, Hazel because she's stupid and George because he has a transmitter in his ear that plays loud noises to disrupt his thinking.
Masked ballerinas stumble on stage, weights strapped around their neck, and announcers with speech impediments broadcast the news. A picture of Harrison Bergeron appears on the screen. He has escaped from prison. Moments later Harrison breaks into the studio, claims himself emperor and anoints the first ballerina to step forward queen. The two perform a graceful dance, followed by the entrance of Diana Moon Glampers, Handicapper General of the United States government, who shoots and kills Harrison and his queen.
A "Harrison Bergeron" analysis produces the following topics of discussion.
- "Equal is not always fair in 'Harrison Bergeron'": The Declaration of Independence states "all men are created equal." Some, including the government in "Harrison Bergeron," misunderstand the meaning of equality, thinking it guarantees equal results as opposed to equal opportunity under the law and in the eyes of God.
- The Dangers of Big Government: "Harrison Bergeron" explore the dangers of giving government too much authority.
- Irony: The irony is obvious--dancers who can't dance, announcers who can't speak, smart people who can't think. Everyone has an articificial handicap, except for the Handicapper General who enforces the laws.
- Satire: Vonnegut pokes fun at government policies that punish the gifted and successful, redistribute resources, and encroach upon civil liberties. The tone is satirical; the theme is serious.
- The United States Constitution - Even the U.S. Constitution, a document created to limit government, has been turned into an instrument of oppression by Diana Moon Glampers and her ilk by adding 186 amendments to it.
Use these lesson ideas for teaching "Harrison Bergeron."
- Kurt Vonnegut is one of America's great humorists. Use this analyzing humor lesson plan to help students recognize his talents.
- Read the Declaration of Independence. Discuss the phrase "all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." What did Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers mean? How have modern politicians warped the expression? Can an equality of results be obtained? Has equality under the law been obtained?
- Read the United States Constitution Bill of Rights. Discuss which rights have been abused in "Harrison Bergeron." Feel free to partner up with the U.S. History or government teacher and try this Bill of Rights lesson plan.
- "Harrison Bergeron" makes a great companion piece of literature to Brave New World, 1984, or Fahrenheit 451.
Assignments for Students: Write a Review
Have each student do the following after reading the story:
- Write a brief "Harrison Bergeron" summary, 100-200 words.
- Write a brief of "Harrison Bergeron" analysis extolling its literary merit, 150-200 words. Be sure to mention "equal is not always fair in 'Harrison Bergeron'"
- List 3 or 4 "Harrison Bergeron" Activities in a bulleted list.
- Give each section a rating of 1-5 stars.
Click here for a complete standards based semester curriculum map with lesson plans and links.